By on January 20, 2014

Bob King

Outgoing United Auto Workers president Bob King admitted that his timetable for a swift unionization of one of the auto plants in the Southeastern United States was overly optimistic.

Though the UAW is still slogging through efforts at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn. and Nissan’s Canton, Miss. plants, King hopes that the VW workers will become card-carrying members before union rules bring his four-year term to a close in June 2014. King believes the only thing holding back the assimilation is the process in which to bring UAW membership to a vote, stating that a “strong majority” of the VW workers have submitted cards in support of joining the union.

In his speech at the Automotive News World Congress last week during the 2014 Detroit Auto Show, King said that while workers in European and Japanese auto plants throughout the United States were not opposed to UAW membership, past organizing efforts have been hampered by employers through intimidation tactics and threats of unemployment. King further claimed that without the current push to bring the workers under their umbrella, jobs in the automotive industry would come to consist of “low-wage, temporary labor working under unsafe conditions” in the 21st century.

On the other side, Volkswagen and Nissan — the latter specifically called out by King for their alleged anti-unionization efforts — both stated that they would respect the wishes of their factory employees in whatever they decided to do regarding the UAW.

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51 Comments on “UAW Hopes For Swift Southern Unionization Victory ‘Overly Optimistic’...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    When employers cite economic realities for avoiding unionizing, it’s called “intimidation tactics and threats of unemployment”.

    When Mr King mentions “low-wage, temporary labor working under unsafe conditions”, he wants us to miss that he’s actually using intimidation tactics and threats of unemployment to promote his message.

    What a fraud. By the way Bob, please provide some evidence of the 19th-century conditions these workers experience.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I generally support the idea of labor unions, but Bob, “A strong majority of workers have submitted cards in favor of the union” don’t mean Jack-*bleep!*. Wake me up when you actually win an organizing election, which despite all your promises, keeps not happening.

    A bunch of prototypical burly auto workers sitting down at your table during your lunch break and asking you to please sign this card saying you support the union? Yeah, that’s a real accurate measure of worker sentiment.

    The very idea that the labor movement keeps pushing “Card Check” as a something to replace secret-ballot elections is remarkably tone-deaf and plays into the worst union stereotypes. It makes sense as a way to trigger an election taking place (which is what it’s used for, despite agitating to make it as good as a vote), but nothing more.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    I see TTAC is getting back to writing up endless union articles that remain neutral but create swift anti-union talk in the comments. I wouldn’t mind it so much but almost all the anti-union comments are somewhere between misinformed and just plain stupid. I’ve hashed it out a few times with them and frankly just don’t want to keep endlessly explaining to them their basic understanding of how it works is so horribly skewed that they fail at even basic economics.

    So carry on, you keep believing in your moral economics while I keep to reality.

    • 0 avatar
      Josh_Howard

      Having lived and worked in areas similar and close to those mentioned in this article, I think it’s not a stretch to say TTAC is telling the truth and not just being anti-union. On the whole, people in the south do no like unions. They don’t like what they stand for because of their perception of them. Now, knowing people who work for Nissan, I’m here to tell you that very few want to unionize. Why? The money. The last thing they want is some fat-cat union rep to come along and try to get dues from them every month for a job that they feel is just fine as far as pay goes. Nissan pays their line employees well so they don’t HAVE to unionize. Sure, I bet there are some that do… but those are still a minority. That isn’t union hating or bashing, that’s a fact.

    • 0 avatar
      EEGeek

      Although I generally disagree with your positions on the subject, I agree on the futility of endlessly hashing out the good and evil of unions. Passions are inflamed and no one is convinced of anything. It’s much like talking about abortion – best simply not to go there.

      • 0 avatar
        Josh_Howard

        And people shouldn’t be talking about the good or evil of unions. What they should be talking about is that they are admitting the victory was optimistic and that perhaps they should set more realistic goals for the short term. Union membership in general is on the decline except for government unions which are doing well. What they need to do to survive is get more members. This article is more or less just a relaying of information rather than a “what do you guys think of unions?”. People are going to have their sides like any passionate topic. You’re right on EEGeek.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Before you can explain anything to anyone, you’ve got to show that you have mastered the subject at hand. Someone who still believes that the Japanese transplant operations have had an overall negative impact the United States economy in general, and its manufacturing sector, in particular, is no position to lecture anyone else on this subject.

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    Why Nissan and VW? Why not push the union drive at Honda in Ohio or Subaru in Indiana? These are two rust belt states with GM, Ford and Chrysler facilities already represented by the UAW. Bottom line is if the workers are satisfied with their wages, benefits and conditions, what benefit does the UAW offer them? It doesn’t take much to see what the UAW got for the employees at GM, Ford and Chrysler.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Yeah. Bankrupted companies that would do almost anything to get out from under those excessive wages being paid out not only to their active employees, but also their retired, no longer working members who simply didn’t arrange any form of self-retirement. When you buy a Union car today, you’re not just paying for the parts and the wages of the people who actually worked on them, you’re paying for another 2x-3x that number that no longer have anything to do with that manufacture.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        @ Vulpine….So very true, and may I take this moment to thank all those folks that buy “Union Cars”

        @ Our great editors here at TTAC please read “EEGeeK’s ” comment above.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      Indiana is recently right-to-work:

      http://www.nrtw.org/rtws.htm

      Nissan has a LOT of factories, and VW is weak because of the German union support, so I think that is why they are getting targeted by the UAW.

      The UAW is hurting workers more than any of these automakers, because it is promising that a line worker job will be a high paying job for life, if only there is unionization. That is a lie, unions or not. The automakers are not selling workers that lie, they are just paying them enough for them to volunteer to come in.

      While manufacturing is coming back to the US (in large part because of low unionization rates) it is becoming increasingly more automated and efficient. On a 20, 30 or even 10 year horizon factories are going to be cutting substantial workers as efficiency and automation increase. Unions are not going to stop that, they are just going to delay it, and put unionized companies at a competitive disadvantage.

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    Wouldn’t they have better odds of unionizing Toyota or Honda employees in West Virginia, Ohio, or Indiana?

    Edit: I guess others like Lichtronamo above had the same question!

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    If those workers wanted to become UAW member the UAW didn’t need to travel there and collect cards.

    If the workers wanted to join the UAW, the workers would have assemblesd and asked the UAW to come to TN to help them.

    If Lithuania would have wanted to join the (Soviet) Union, they would have asked Stalin to admit them. Instead, Stalin came under the premise that he just knew Lithuania wanted to be part o the (Soviet) union and made them a member.

    Isn’t TN a “right to work”state? What woudl happen if the majority voted for the UAW? Will every worker be forced topay dues, or jsut theones that voted for the UAW? My understanding is in our “forced union” states after a positive vote for union, everyone has to pay dues regardless of if they want to or not (they may be free to becoem actual members, but still have to pay dues – which is what it all is about)

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      You make an excellent point.

      In today’s world, when a girl is repeatedly solicited by a guy, it’s called ‘harassment’. In this case, I don’t think the girl made the first move.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I was a member of the Boilermakers Union in Chattanooga 40 years ago. Not too many years later the company stopped all production of the biggest, heaviest boilers made in the world, along with reactor vessels for both naval ships and electric power plants. Why? Because another country could make them as good, at a much lower price.

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    George Will has it in his current column for the Washington Post that “…organized labor’s presence in the private sector has shriveled from about 35 percent of the workforce in the 1950s to 6.6 percent today…”

  • avatar
    dantes_inferno

    Will someone tell Bob that Tennessee doesn’t take too kindly to carpetbaggers like him?

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    The unions were originally created to protect workers from corporate abuse. But what protects corporations from union abuse? Many of our favorite cars no longer exist because the auto companies could not afford to build them any more.

    A middle ground MUST be found that protects both sides of the manufacturing business.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      Cite some proof, champ. Go ahead. Cite it. I’ll wait patiently here while you dig and crawl through the annals of history to prove your fictitious analysis.

      I understand in some weird bizzaro land where you live this considered normal logic but there has yet to be a single case of a union causing such a situation. Perhaps you need a simple lesson in how neoliberal economics promotes this idea and conservatism has had a thirty year drum beat of how we can’t afford things even as our economy continues to grow, our GDP increases, and our wages have remained stagnant while the capitalist class has gained huge advances.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Austin-Healey, MG, Triumph, and Studebaker for starters. Calling people ignorant while championing unions and making any of the other statements in this thread with your name on them is rich.

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        Don’t forget GM and Chrysler. The companies became insolvent with no small help from high labor costs and onerous work rules.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        Xeranar: I’ll wait patiently here while you dig and crawl through the annals of history to prove your fictitious analysis.

        I’m still waiting for your proof that the Japanese companies are running sweatshop operations in this country, or that they have hurt this country’s manufacturing sector or overall economy.

        (To help you along – union publications or websites, or published by those sympathetic to unions, don’t count as a reputable source in the real world.)

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        You forget–I AM a former Union worker. It effectively cost me my job at my city’s largest employer by forcing manufacturing overseas.

        • 0 avatar
          AH-1WSuperCobra

          Don’t forget unions also killed Hostess since the Bakers Union thought they could call managements bluff even after the Teamsters accepted a new deal and it blew up in their faces leaving 18,000 people out of work.

          http://money.cnn.com/2012/11/16/news/companies/hostess-closing/index.html

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I might argue the union killed Hostess over time, but IIRC the company was bought by speculators and its assets/cash were stripped out by the owners. I’m prepared to be wrong on those points though because my memory is cloudy of the event.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Yeah, all the kids were eating Twinkies and Wonder Bread until they learned that they were made by union workers.

          • 0 avatar
            geeber

            You can’t blame the demise of Hostess on the union. Tastes have changed regarding snack food, and the company failed to keep up with consumer preferences.

            I haven’t bought, let alone eaten, a Twinkie in years. And neither has anyone else I’ve known (and it’s certainly not because we’ve sworn off sugar!). I’m sure that we aren’t the only ones who have not purchased the company’s products for years. That, ultimately, was the root of the company’s problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Claw

      LOL @ “union abuse”….

  • avatar
    ect

    The transplants followed the same strategy as IBM, locating their plants in smaller centres where they’d be the biggest employer and where there was no union tradition.

    They seem to have done a good job of keeping wages & benefits near enough to D3 levels that it’s not possible for the UAW to promise to get more money for them. In fact, transplant workers have probably seen that they get wage/benefit increases comparable to what UAW plants get, without having to unionize or go on strike.

    If they do treat people well enough to derail the “respect” issue, then it’s hard to see how the UAW could win an election.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    ‘If it ain’t broke why fix it?’

    The reality is nowadays there are so many regulations and laws protecting the individual, why do we need unions?

    Maybe these jokers, like all other far left individuals, ie, greenies, should go to countries that need them. There work is done here. Oh, they’ll end up in prison or deported.

    Maybe the UAW needs funds. The people they represent, I mean the UAW tax base is slowly dwindling.

    All they have to do is put out a prospectus displaying their previous performance. Hmmm, about as good as Chrysler or GM. Maybe the government can bail out the UAW, like they did for the Big 3 ;)

    Believe it or not I’m not anti union. I’m anti poor leadership, management and waste. The UAW represents all of these dismal attributes.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    Labor relations is simple,to quote GMI Prof Dean:

    “The union comes to the table and always wants the same thing,

    “MORE! NOW!”

    Management’s response is always the same as well.

    “You can have whatever you want, just don’t touch our pocket books.””

    King knows he needs to regain a monopoly on NA production to have the power, and membership he seeks. The UAW has NA competition for jobs these days.

    The UAW with a few hundred thousand members is a mere shadow of its former size. Union employment continues to decline across America. The ugly reason is that they drive cost structures which can not compete in the global arena. They put their employers out of business.

    GM spinoff, Delphi, at one time accounted for a quarter of the global auto supplier segment, irrc. The company provides a detailed illustration.

    They are profitable everywhere except NA, where they closed 28 of 30 plants and sold the other two.

    The union strike is fundamentally the same thing as a mugger threatening to hit you over the head with a bat if you don’t give him what he demands. Other than that nasty foundation of their power, they are fine.

  • avatar
    GST

    Don’t forget Eastern Airlines as an example. Pilots and Stewardesses agreed to some wage cuts, different work rules, Mechanics did not. Eastern had to pull the plug. Younger readers probably do not know about historic Eastern Airlines.

    From years of reading about the topic, I conclude that it is not wages that are the biggest union problem, but antiquated work rules are.

    A city manager of a now bankrupt and liquidated international courier company told me he had to spend 75% of his time daily dealing with union driver greivances.

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      In the auto business it was not the hourly wages workers earned, so much as the entitlement liabilities of lifetime income and health care after “30 years and out” that created effective labor costs of $73/hour vs. today’s, post 2007 UAW contract, $48 or so, a competitive rate.

      Work rules were a big problem in ways that hampered both productivity, and quality. A former Firestone Steel (out of business) union worker, who at the time, was a committee man for hourly employees in the GM BOC Group Process development center told me of his experience at Firestone.

      He told me his machine shut down and he was appalled when the electrician who came to fix it made the whole plant sit idle while he waited for another electrician to hold the ladder for him! The machine operator offered, and certainly could have done it, but the electrician informed him, “It is not your work”.

      A book could be written about the ways this attitude hampered assuring quality and solving quality issues that did surface.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        At GM, they really propagandized you to believe that everything was a cost problem.

        Prior to the bankruptcy, GM had a **revenue** problem. The excessive badge engineering and poor quality had turned GM into the K-mart of the auto business. Of course, the costs seem high when the vehicles are being effectively given away.

        Prior to the BK, GM would have been losing money even if it had no benefits to fund. The situation was that dire; I suppose that everyone was too busy complaining about the workforce and the government (that would eventually bail it out) to bother to read the financial statements.

        • 0 avatar
          doctor olds

          Of course they had a revenue problem. Their labor costs absorbed more than all of it!

          As always, you are entitled to your misinformed opinion. ;)

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            I posted this here five years ago. Odd how none of the GM alumni seem to be able to do this math:
            _______________

            Below are 2007 fiscal year figures for GM and Toyota. These make it quite clear that revenue is the real problem here. ($ X 1000)

            Toyota -
            Revenue from vehicles sold: $241,305,000
            Other revenue: $21,079,000
            Total Revenue: $262,394,000
            Operating Expenses: $239,733,000
            Operating Income: $22,661,000

            GM –
            Revenues from vehicles sold: $178,199,000
            Other revenue: $2,923,000
            Total revenue: $181,122,000
            Operating Expenses: $185,512,000
            Operating Loss: -$4,390,000

            Notice two things from the above: The revenue gap is enormous, and it is Toyota that had the higher operating expenses. Listening to Wagoner, Lutz, etc., you’d think that it was the opposite, but run the numbers, and you can see that Toyota has far higher operating costs than GM does.

            Here are number of units sold for the same period:

            Toyota – 8.913 million units
            GM – 9.370 million units

            Divide the revenue from vehicle sales by the number of vehicles sold, and you get average revenues per unit:

            Toyota – $27,071/ unit
            GM – $19,018/ unit

            The difference: $8,053/ unit, or about 42%. For every $1.00 that GM takes in from selling a car, Toyota takes in $1.42.

            Now, let’s see what would have happened to Toyota in 2007 if it had sold the same number of vehicles and had the same expenses that it did, but if it had sold its vehicles at GM prices. You guessed it — Toyota would have been a huge money loser:

            Revenue from vehicles: $169,525,615
            Other revenue: $21,079,000
            Total revenue: $190,604,615
            Expenses: $239,733,000
            Operating Loss: $(49,128,385)

            Next, look at how GM would have done had it kept all of its expenses and sold the same number of vehicles that it did, but was able to get the $27,000+ per vehicle that Toyota did:

            Revenue from vehicles: $253,661,322
            Other revenue: $2,923,000
            Total revenue: $256,584,322
            Expenses: $185,512,000
            Operating Income: $71,072,322

            Strip away the political BS and get to the numbers. This problem is very, very obvious if you just look at the financial statements. Sell Toyotas at GM prices, and Toyota becomes a basketcase. Sell GM vehicles at Toyota prices, and GM is doing quite well.

            The obvious question to ask is why GM can’t sell cars for the same amount of money. This was obviously an issue before the economy melted down — these are 2007 figures — so you can’t blame the credit crunch.

            Cutting operating costs is obviously not going to be the saving grace here. In theory, GM is already more productive — its operating costs per vehicle are lower. But nobody wants to pay for that sort of productivity. It’s more lucrative to make better cars, and to sell them for more money.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            I have one question for you, 101:

            What would GM’s sales have done had GM chosen to up their prices by that average $7K? Do you still think they would have sold that same 9.370 million units? I don’t. GM’s lack of income wasn’t just due to poor revenue–their poor revenue was due to leaving customers with poor choices across the board. They ended up killing two of their three brands shortly after because the brands no longer represented their customer base.

            Oldsmobile went from being an excellent mid-range luxury brand to econoboxes with almost no appeal for younger OR older clientele. The marque that was the most popular in the late ’60s through the mid-’70s–The Cutlass–lost its “personal luxury” appeal and became no better than Chrylser’s own K-cars. When they finally came out of their ‘boxy’ era, not one model could easily relate to its ancestor. This problem went across the board for GM through all of its lines with the exception of the Fox body (Camaro/Firebird), the Corvette and their trucks. Buick survived because it continued to cater to the seniors through that period, though now it’s trying to appeal to the younger Oldsmobile crowd. Even so, I’m not sure it’s working as well as they’d like.

            Every time GM has tried to change some aspect of their product line, they’ve antagonized more customers than they’ve attracted. The SST was an attempt to appeal to the “sporty, mid-sized pickup with legacy appeal” crowd and priced it out of reach of the people they wanted. I wanted an SST, but I certainly wasn’t going to pay $37K for it. Even now, I won’t willingly pay $37K for a pickup truck that’s simply too big and too clumsy for everyday driving. With bringing the Colorado back, even if it IS still too big for all that it’s smaller than full-size, they’re making a move in the right direction–but only if they don’t overprice them.

            My point is that Waggoner and his immediate predecessors made some horrendous mistakes which effectively destroyed GM’s product lines and as such their customer base. EVERY SINGLE MODEL lost sales over a 20-year period to the point that they had to keep low prices just to maintain any sales. However, that doesn’t absolve the unions from fault. During that period most models were very cheaply built and seemed quite flimsy compared to their predecessors and their descendants. Construction quality fell while prices continued to rise. UAW laborers were making three times that of almost any other labor force outside of Unions. GM, in their effort to cut other costs, chose to build relatively cheap cars as a result. Yes, they did still build some good cars, but it’s like they chose one or two models from each product line to put their best effort into and let the rest atrophy.

            In other words, the Unions were still partially at fault by driving costs up.

            Toyota? Let me ask you one question about them? How did they average that supposed $27K per unit when the typical Toyota marque sold for less than $25K at the time? Only the Camry and the Avalon (and the Tundra) sold over that mark. Simple answer? Lexus. The average sale price of a Lexus was well over $30K and makes up almost half of Toyotas overall sales, even though the Camry is their most popular model in the US (and by extension the most popular CAR in the US). GM’s most popular brand–Chevrolet–simply didn’t have a model to compete (Please don’t mention the Impala–even now it doesn’t live up to its ancestral name) and Cadillac sales have never been huge because they appealed almost exclusively to the wealthy. Toyota simply did things smarter than GM and I think still is, though I’m hoping that since the bankruptcy and with their new CEO they’ll show some intelligence. Again, I feel the C-twins are a step in the right direction.

          • 0 avatar
            doctor olds

            Genaral Motors reported over $200B in annual sales prior to the divestiture of GMAC, for example. Look it up and compare to Toyota at the time. Doesn’t Toyota have a captive finance company as well as extensive ownership in suppliers, all included in the bottom line numbers you use.GM sure commands more money than Toyota for their cars in NA these days.

            You presume far more than you understand as shown by your simple-minded analysis.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Doc, you don’t win any prizes for showing your contempt for business sense.

            Let’s remember that your former employer filed bankruptcy and was reorganized only because of government largess. Had your former managers not been aided by the taxpayer, the company would have liquidated, the ultimate reward for bad business decisions.

            “What would GM’s sales have done had GM chosen to up their prices by that average $7K?”

            GM could not have possibly raised its prices to Toyota levels, because GM cars sucked.

            GM had a revenue problem because it had product and branding problems. The lack of profits was the byproduct of consumers being unwilling to pay the kinds of prices that they were willing to pay for other, superior vehicles.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Thank you for reading my entire argument, Pch101; you just reiterated what I said in fewer words–without explanation as to the whys.

        • 0 avatar
          doctor olds

          PCH- Business sense? My disgust is for presumptuous ignorance.

          GM’s NA transaction prices are much higher than Toyota’s with higher sales volumes as well. This is a far cry from the conclusions you reached with the simple arithmetic you did based on flawed understanding of the two company’s revenue streams and cost structures.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            I’m sorry that you can’t understand a financial statement.

            That was a problem at GM generally, which is ironic when you consider the finance orientation of the company.

            It’s pretty obvious that Toyota had higher costs per unit, but offset those higher costs with substantially greater revenue. It’s also obvious that your bosses never told you this, but then again, GM provides a case study of how not to run a company.

          • 0 avatar
            doctor olds

            I understand financial statements in a much more comprehensive way than your simple analysis suggests you do.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            If you could understand a financial statement, then you wouldn’t be attempting to argue with what is simply a factual presentation of real data.

            You can’t explain the disparity between GM management rhetoric and the numbers in the annual report. GM kept lamenting its high cost structure, when it had lower costs than Toyota.

            GM is proof that it’s not possible to cut ones way to prosperity. There has to be a viable revenue model, and selling second-rate cars at a steep discount to fleets while the competition conquers the retail market is not a sustainable business model.

          • 0 avatar
            doctor olds

            You are right. It is a simple presentation, with an incorrect conclusion about how much of the revenue is from vehicle sales and how much from other sources.

            GM has much higher transaction prices than Toyota today. Did they just magically jump to a new paradigm?

            They had higher transaction prices in the time frame you cite as well, I will wager. Toyota assuredly did not have the advantage your arithmetic draws you to conclude.

            Gross revenue is much more than vehicle sales. Once again, note GM’s $50B reduction in sales with the GMAC spinoff as an easily understandable example.

            Your analysis is simple and wrong.

            Besides, regardless of the reasons for GM’s market share slide, the reason they went broke is because they had no way to stop ever rising labor costs in spite of that reality. That is my point. I’ve repeatedly explained the $8B/year elephant in the room that Toyota didn’t have to carry.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            You’re repeating the same rhetoric that was coming out of GM before the bankruptcy, at a time that it denied that it could possibly file BK.

            Again, GM was a failed company. Were it not for the taxpayer, it wouldn’t exist today.

            The old guard is not in any position to pretend that it has any insights to offer about the ship that it ran aground. They can only teach about failure, not about the right way to do business.

            You can thank the government task force for the improvements that have helped the new GM.

          • 0 avatar
            doctor olds

            I lay out the facts. Sorry you can’t or choose not to understand.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Hubris shouldn’t be confused with wisdom.

            GM was a failed business, with failed leadership and a lack of self-awareness that produced bad product and branding. I can only hope that the new company has better people to guide it than did the old company.

          • 0 avatar
            doctor olds

            Oddly enough, most all of the same people are running the company and doing very well.

            You imagine you understand a lot more than you actually do.


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